The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SUNDAY SPORT - ANZ STA­DIUM MATT LOGUE

COOPER Cronk dis­cov­ered life with­out Mel­bourne isn’t easy as his starstud­ded Syd­ney Roost­ers suf­fered a shock open­ing-round loss yes­ter­day to a re­silient Wests Tigers led by a re­ju­ve­nated Benji Mar­shall.

The new-look Roost­ers, boosted by Cronk and NSW full­back James Tedesco, were ex­pected to steam­roll the Tigers. But Ivan Cleary’s men had other ideas.

The Tigers ex­celled with­out big­name buy Josh Reynolds, who tore his ham­string while at­tempt­ing the fi­nal kick of Fri­day’s cap­tain’s run.

Reynolds’ de­par­ture opened the door for prodi­gal son Mar­shall to make his tri­umphant re­turn to the Tigers after 1644 days.

The vet­eran Kiwi was out­stand­ing, con­trol­ling pro­ceed­ings with his pin­point kick­ing and pass­ing.

Mar­shall cred­ited a pre-match text mes­sage from for­mer Bris­bane and New Zealand coach Wayne Ben­nett for help­ing him over­come his nerves.

“I got a nice mes­sage from the big fella, which was nice,” an elated Mar­shall said, post-match. “I sent Wayne a good-luck-for-the-sea­son mes­sage and he wrote back to­day say­ing: ‘go out there and be the Benji we know at the Tigers and en­joy your­self and play footy’.

“It was great to hear from him be­cause that was the most ner­vous I’ve been since my de­but. It was weird, man. I’ve never been quiet be­fore the game, like I was to­day.”

In the end, diminu­tive winger Corey Thomp­son de­liv­ered the de­ci­sive play for the Tigers with three min­utes re­main­ing.

Thomp­son stood up his op­po­site, Daniel Tupou, be­fore leap­ing into the cor­ner to score a bril­liant solo try.

“I did a lit­tle stut­ter to make him (Tupou) lose his feet and I was lucky enough to get over,” Thomp­son said.

“I was tired in the first half and it went back and forth for a long time. We showed what we’re made of all pre-sea­son and we never doubted our­selves.”

Coach Ivan Cleary praised Thomp­son’s match-seal­ing try, say­ing he epit­o­mised the cul­ture the Tigers are try­ing to build.

Told about Cleary’s com­ments, the for­mer Bull­dogs flyer said he was just grate­ful to be back in the NRL after a two-year stint with Widnes in Eng­land.

“Ivan has given me a shot to come back and I just wanted to put in dur­ing pre-sea­son when I wasn’t feel­ing well and wanted to sleep in and not show up,” he said. “I forced my­self to go there ev­ery day and I was lucky enough to get a start.”

Full­back Tuimoala Lolo­hea capped off the Tigers’ win with a sen­sa­tional side­line con­ver­sion. Lolo­hea has worked on his goal­kick­ing with pre­mier­ship­win­ning club legend Brett Hodg­son.

“I’ve been taught by Hodgo to al­ways think your kick is go­ing in, so I was pretty con­fi­dent it was go­ing over,” Lolo­hea said.

“It was cool to get the kick in to win the game and there is no bet­ter feel­ing to start off the sea­son with a win.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mar­shall, the Tigers’ calm­ness un­der pres­sure was no fluke.

“In the pre-sea­son Ivan made us prac­tise win­ning and if you lost any­thing you got pun­ished for it with run­ning,” he said. “We ac­tu­ally had to prac­tise win­ning and I thought that helped us at the back end of that game.

“The boys re­ally put in for each other and we gained each other’s re­spect.”

Mar­shall was rapt with the win, but he knows the Tigers can’t get car­ried away, with a date against de­fend­ing premiers Mel­bourne next Sat­ur­day.

“We’ve got to back it up now,” he said. “If we don’t come out next week and put in the same in­ten­sity and at­ti­tude, it looks like to­day was a fluke.

“So come Mon­day we’ve got to turn it around again.”

Esan Marsters bat­tles with Jared Waerea-Har­g­reaves (above left), and (right) James Tedesco greets his for­mer team­mates. Pic­tures: Phil Hill­yard

Corey Thomp­son scores the match­win­ning try for the Tigers against the Roost­ers at ANZ Sta­dium. Pic­ture: Phil Hill­yard

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